Tag Archives: prophesy

FFOZ TV Review: Foretaste of the Kingdom

FFOZ TV episode 21Episode 21: The Apostle Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow of things to come.” Most people usually think of it as a shadow of things from the past. However, viewers will learn in episode twenty-one that the Sabbath is a foreshadow of things still yet to come. Jesus and the Sabbath both provide rest and the Sabbath rest is a taste of the final rest we will have in the Messianic Era when Messiah returns to set up his kingdom. Thus for those who still observe the Sabbath today, it is a promise of what is to come, the Messianic Age.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 21: Foretaste of the Kingdom (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath Rest

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki starts out the exploration of this mystery with what most of us consider to be a familiar lesson from Jesus:

Turn to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will cause you to rest. Accept upon yourself my yoke and learn from me, for I am humble and lowly in spirit, and you will find a resting place for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-29 (DHE Gospels)

There’s a lot we think we know about this teaching. We think we know that Jesus wants us to believe in him so that becoming a Christian will provide our souls rest. We think he means that his yoke, his grace, is a pleasant and light “burden” when compared to the Law of Moses. We think that Jesus is always humble and lowly rather than being like the vengeful God of the Old Testament.

But we’re probably not correct, at least not entirely. One of the points Toby made (and he’s made it before, is that when we use improper Biblical exegesis, we often come up with incorrect theology. That statement most likely won’t make some Christian readers happy since once taught, the traditional theology is the Church is set in stone. But sometimes examining a familiar view from an unfamiliar perspective yields new insights.

So too with this continuation of the investigation of the Sabbath, which was begun in the previous episode which I reviewed last week.

So if what we typically understand about the “rest” being described by Jesus isn’t correct, then, from a Messianic Jewish perspective, what is it?

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11 (NASB)

Toby says that there’s a link between Matthew 11:28-29 and Hebrews 4:9-11. They both talk about a “rest,” though in the case of the writer of Hebrews, it’s specifically a Shabbat rest. Toby leads his audience through a small Bible study on Hebrews 4:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Hebrews 4:1-2 (NASB)

Toby JanickiAccording to Toby, the writer of the book of Hebrews is referring to that first generation of Israelites who left Egypt and died in the wilderness.

They too had a rest they could have entered, the rest of the Promised Land, Israel. But they did not due to lack of faith. Toby next presents verses 3 and 4 as connecting this rest to the Sabbath:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,

“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”

although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”

The writer of Hebrews is actually quoting Exodus 20:11 which is the commandment of observing the Sabbath. But verses 9 through 11 are not specifically referring to the seventh day Sabbath or the rest represented by entering the Land of Israel. Verse 9 says “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What rest is that?

According to Toby, these passages are sometimes used by Christians to “prove” that Jesus is our spiritual rest so we don’t need to observe an actual, physical day of rest, neither Gentile Christians nor any Jewish person. But the writer of Hebrews is clearly referring to something in the future, not something that’s already happened. If Hebrews 4 links back to the “rest” which Jesus was teaching about in Matthew 11, then we have reached our first clue.

Clue 1: The rest that Jesus offers us is something that is in the future.

Verses 10 and 11 in Hebrews 4 is a warning not to be disobedient to God as were the first generation of Israelites who disobeyed by refusing to enter the Land of Promise. Obedience of the people of God is required for them…for us to be able to enter into that future rest of Jesus. But again, what rest is that? To us, this represents a Biblical mystery, but to the original audience listening to Jesus or the original Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel, it was probably self-evident. How would they have understood the word “rest,” which in Hebrew is “Menuchah?”

To answer that question, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. Aaron first reads from a portion of the Siddur (Jewish prayer-book) which describes the Shabbat as a rest of “love, willingness, truth, faith, peace, tranquility, stillness, trust,” and “a complete rest in which you find favor.”

Clearly, the concept of Shabbat is more than just relaxing in front of the tube or playing a few rounds of golf.

ffoz_tv21_aaronRest is used in a somewhat different context in the Bible. Aaron quoted from Deuteronomy 12:19 referring to Israel, 1 Chronicles 22:9 which refers to Solomon as “a man of rest” and a King who will reign over a nation experiencing rest, peace, and quiet, and 1 Kings 8:56 which is part of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. These images represent the age of Messianic redemption and the Temple is a portrait of the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises. Aaron also links this to the poetic language of the Rabbis who consider the weekly Shabbat to be a tiny fraction of what will be experienced in the age to come…a forestate of the Kingdom of God.

Back in the studio with Toby, we receive the next clue:

Clue 2: The Sabbath rest is a foretaste of the rest in the Messianic Era.

I can certainly see why the seventh-day Sabbath rest is considered a blessing of both physical and spiritual rest for observant Jews. Not only is it a day to rest in the holiness and peace of God in our age, but it is a miniature representation of the full and complete rest that will be experienced when Messiah reigns in Jerusalem and over all the world, an age of total, worldwide peace.

But in traditional Christian interpretation, we encounter a problem:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

I mentioned these verses among others in my review last week as the “Christian defense” against acknowledging an ongoing Shabbat observance or any such keeping of a Sabbath in the future. When I typically hear language like “type and shadow” in a Christian context, it usually means that such “shadows” came to point us to Jesus, but now that he’s come, the shadows are no longer necessary. However, that interpretation is filtered through a great deal of Protestant tradition and ignores what Paul is actually saying.

Paul said that the Sabbath is a “mere shadow of what is to come,” not what has already come. If, at his first coming, Jesus “fulfilled” the requirement of the Shabbat, then why does Paul refer to the future?

Also, and I’d like to thank Toby for bringing this up, let’s talk about this “shadow” thing. Again, the typical Church teaching on a “shadow” is that it’s basically something of limited usefulness and utility, and was only a poor imitation of something that the Jewish people had to make do with until Christ. Once Christ came, the shadows were eliminated by the “light of the world” and what was temporary then passed away.

Shabbat candlesWhat is a shadow? In a common context, it’s just an area where light is being blocked by an object in between a light source and whatever the light happens to be shining at. A shadow generally renders the shape of the object blocking the light. If Jesus is the “substance” or body of the shadow, then, to extend the metaphor, the Sabbath is “Jesus-shaped.”

If we put all this together, then the Sabbath day is a “shape” or “outline” of something with more substance that will occur in the future and has something to do with the “body” of Messiah. Since that future event has yet to occur, we still exist in the shadow or rather, the seventh-day Shabbat still has purpose and meaning as an image of something even greater and more peaceful to come. Jesus has not replaced the Sabbath and perhaps he never will. In the future, he will fill to complete fullness what we only have a taste of in the current age.

Toby related a number of Talmudic references I’ll pass over (please view the actual episode to get those details) but concludes, using Rabbinic and poetic language, that such concepts link both to 2 Peter 3:8 and Revelation 20:1-6 in describing the thousand-year Messianic reign of Jesus. This is the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Sabbath foreshadows the coming thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The rest Jesus was talking about is the Messianic Era, and all who are devoted disciples of Messiah and worshipers of the God of Israel will enter that promised rest when Messiah returns to take up his throne. But we must remain faithful to the end in order to enter that rest.

What Did I Learn?

Something rather poignant. There are a couple of sequences in every episode of the FFOZ TV show that describe the learning materials and other products available through First Fruits of Zion. One of the things this show is supposed to inspire is a desire in the viewers to want to learn more, which can be accomplished through the many fine resources provided by FFOZ.

But in one of these sequences, the voice over said that a “prophetic restoration is sweeping through the Christian world.” I don’t see anything like that “sweeping” through my little corner of the Christian world. I’m glad it’s happening to someone somewhere.

I was also reminded of last Erev Shabbat. My wife made several loaves of Challah and she once again brought out the Shabbos candles…but she was late. My little reminder in Google calendar said that candle lighting began at 4:56 p.m. and at that time, the candles still hadn’t been ignited. I casually mentioned this to her and received a surprisingly sharp rebuke in return. Why should I, a Gentile Christian (she didn’t actually call me that), be keeping track of when Shabbat candle lighting is? She had abruptly (and not for the first time) put up a “Keep Out” sign over the entryway to Shabbat in our home.

She subsequently lit the candles but did not invite me to be present.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

But a husband against a wife, Master?

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

I should say that in every other area, the missus and I get along and address a wide range of concerns and shared experiences. It’s just this one place, this religious place, where we are segregated and our worlds keep us apart. I know that, for a variety of reasons, she has good cause to be defensive, but I can’t say that it doesn’t still sting a bit for me to be relegated to one world where our faith is concerned, while my wife inhabits another.

Boaz in ChinaSo it is for many other Christians and Jews in the present age, when many Jewish people see Shabbat as a blessing exclusively for the Jews and to be jealously guarded against outsiders (even if they’re in the same home), and most Christians have no desire to participate in a “shadow” that has long since been replaced by Jesus on the cross.

An “exploration of the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective,” Boaz Michael said at the end of the episode. It’s what I’ve recently dedicated myself to, but it seems a journey I am destined to take alone, and a territory I’m trespassing in as an uninvited foreigner.

If I am to believe prophesy, then I am assured that one day, I will become a welcome stranger in that strange land, but in the current age, the citizens of that country, at least the “citizen” I am closest to, does not permit my entry, nor do my own “countrymen,” the people of the Church, believe my travel plans are valid. I can only trust that one day my determination will be justified. Otherwise, I must accept that my role is to escort the Jewish exiles back to their Land and their heritage, to the foot of the Throne of Messiah, and then I must turn around as the celebration begins, and retreat to where my Master would have me go.

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Ezekiel and Paul on Messiah and Torah

destruction_of_the_templeFor they have committed adultery and there is blood on their hands and they have committed adultery with their idols; and even their children, whom they had borne for Me, they passed before them to be consumed. Moreover, they have done this to Me: They defiled My Sanctuary on that day, and they desecrated my Sabbaths, when they slaughtered their children for their idols they would come to My Sanctuary on that very day to defile it! Behold, they have done this in My Temple!

Ezekiel 23:37-39 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

Sorry. This is a long one. I was dozing in bed this (Sunday) morning when a few thoughts pulled together for me. This “mediation” is the result.

It seems that, according to the prophet Ezekiel (and many other prophets in the Tanakh), God really, really cared about the Israelites keeping His Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath and the Moedim or Holy, appointed times), but Paul seems to think they don’t matter. Of course, the traditional Christian resolution is that Ezekiel lived on one side of the cross and Paul on the other. Jesus changed everything.

But did he?

I won’t be seeing my Pastor again for one of our conversations for another week or so, but in our review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, and specifically the chapter covering Galatians 2:15-16, Pastor asked me to read all of Galatians 2 as well as Romans 3 and 4, and Colossians 2 to prepare for our next discussion.

I can see where he’s leading.

Not too long ago, I reviewed an episode of the First Fruits of Zion TV show called The Torah is Not Canceled. The episode is based on a particular interpretation of the following words of the Master:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

crossYou can click the links I provided to get the deeper analysis from my review or by watching the episode, but the basic idea is that Jesus is saying he did not come to neglect the Torah or to teach others to neglect it, but rather to teach it correctly and to obey Torah himself. Of course, this too is on the “wrong side of the cross,” so my Pastor could just say that after his death and resurrection, Jesus changed his teachings. But that would be really confusing for him to teach one way before his death and then completely change things after the resurrection. Christian doctrine demands that he did so, but it defies not only logic, but the overall narrative of the Bible as God’s message to the Jewish people and the rest of the world.

In Ezekiel and many other places in the Old Testament, we see God caring very much about whether or not the ancient Israelites obeyed His commandments. There were dire consequences for them neglecting the mitzvot including exile and death.

Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (NASB)

But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out. Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.

Ezekiel 20:13-16 (NASB)

God expects obedience to His commands by Israel’s Kings, Prophets, and the nation as a whole. Disobedience carries dire consequences.

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

messiah-prayerJesus tells his disciples and his critics that he has not come to disobey the mitzvot or to teach others to do so but rather, to teach others to obey the mitzvot and to obey them himself. Further, he says that heaven and earth will pass away before even the tiniest detail of the Torah passes away. Since heaven and earth continue to exist, long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, logically, I have to conclude that the Torah still applies to the Jewish people as it did the day Jesus uttered those words.

But then, what do I do with the following?

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Galatians 2:21 (NASB)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Romans 3:21-30 (NASB)

Of course, Paul immediately says in the next verse, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

From my point of view, Paul isn’t “undoing” the Torah (Law) but rather, he’s saying (and this is how I read his entire message to the churches in Galatia) that Torah obedience doesn’t justify anyone before God.

However…

…that doesn’t mean God disdains the Law that He Himself created or that Jesus unplugged Jewish obedience to God from God’s overall plan. Jesus said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away, not even in the smallest detail, until heaven and earth passed away.

So the “anti-Torah” portions of Paul’s letters either mean Paul was hopelessly conflicted about the Torah or that Christian tradition has erroneously interpreted Paul for a very long time now.

As you probably guessed, I read Ezekiel quite recently and I “discovered” some startling things about the future; about the Messianic Age that is yet to come:

And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it. You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering. You shall take some of its blood and put it on its four horns and on the four corners of the ledge and on the border round about; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. You shall also take the bull for the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 43:18-21 (NASB)

temple-of-messiahHere we see the future Temple, the one that will exist in the Messianic Era. God is describing the sacrifices that will be offered by the Levitical priests in the future Temple, just as those sacrifices were offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert and in Solomon’s Temple. In Ezekiel 44:15-31, God is describing the ordinances that apply to the Levitical priests, which mirror those originally given in the Torah.

And then we have this:

‘Thus says the Lord God, “The gate of the inner court facing east shall be shut the six working days; but it shall be opened on the sabbath day and opened on the day of the new moon. The prince shall enter by way of the porch of the gate from outside and stand by the post of the gate. Then the priests shall provide his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate and then go out; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. The people of the land shall also worship at the doorway of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths and on the new moons. The burnt offering which the prince shall offer to the Lord on the sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish; and the grain offering shall be an ephah with the ram, and the grain offering with the lambs as much as he is able to give, and a hin of oil with an ephah. On the day of the new moon he shall offer a young bull without blemish, also six lambs and a ram, which shall be without blemish. And he shall provide a grain offering, an ephah with the bull and an ephah with the ram, and with the lambs as much as he is able, and a hin of oil with an ephah. When the prince enters, he shall go in by way of the porch of the gate and go out by the same way. But when the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate. And he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. No one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered but shall go straight out. When they go in, the prince shall go in among them; and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Ezekiel 46:1-10 (NASB)

The Prince, that is, Messiah, will offer the traditional sacrifices in the Temple, and he shall, along with all Israel, observe the New Moons and Sabbaths in accordance with the commands of God in the Torah. This is all supposed to happen in the future Messianic Age, on the “right side of the cross,” and apparently in direct contradiction to what Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17.

So we have a few options to consider. If the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul is right, then in spite of all of the evidence in the Old Testament to the contrary, and especially Ezekiel, Jesus “undid” the Torah of Moses for the Jewish people. But that doesn’t make sense. Not only would Paul have to contradict the Old Testament prophets, but he’d have to contradict Jesus and even himself. The scriptures between the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and the different letters of Paul don’t match up.

If that option doesn’t work, where can we turn?

The only other direction to move in (unless we want to dismantle Christianity) seems to be the fact that the traditions Christianity have been using to understand the New Testament and probably the whole Bible need a bit of reworking. You can’t ignore one part of the Bible in favor of the other. If Paul seems to contradict the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself, then either Paul is wrong and our New Testament is hopelessly flawed (in which case, we have to dismantle Christianity), or we’re seriously reading things in the wrong way. We don’t understand Paul and we are forcing an interpretation on him that doesn’t fit and that Paul himself would never recognize.

Apostle-PaulWe know from Ezekiel that the Messiah and all Israel will once again offer sacrifices at the Temple, that all of the Sabbaths and New Moons will be observed, that the Levitical priesthood will be restored, and that the Torah mitzvot will be performed correctly by the Jewish people. From Matthew, we know that not one tiny detail of the Torah will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And from Paul we learn that no matter how important obeying God is by observing the Torah mitzvot, behavioral obedience doesn’t justify anyone, Jew or Gentile, before God. Only faith justifies through God’s grace.

But we still have one little problem. If the Torah is still fully in effect for the Jewish people, what about Jewish disobedience? We have a long record in the Tanakh of the ghastly consequences for such disobedience. While the nation of Israel exists again today, it is still a largely secular nation. Also, many, many Jewish people still choose to live in the diaspora (exile) rather than making Aliyah to Israel and living in the Land, which is also a commandment. Many, many Jews in Israel and all over the world do not observe all or even some of the mitzvot.

What is God’s response to all of this?

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Acts 15:10-11 (NASB)

We see a couple of interesting things here. First of all, Peter calls the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” If that’s true, then why do we see so many complementary references to the Torah in both the Old and New Testaments? The answer, I believe, is the long history of Israelite disobedience to the mitzvot which resulted in God’s terrible wrath upon Israel. Faith and obedience to God in the Torah is wonderful, but the consequences of faithlessness and disobedience are disastrous, a yoke that Israel has not been able to bear.

But Peter also said something else. It wasn’t the words he used but the order of them. He said that “But we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (Gentiles) also are.” As a Jewish person and an apostle, you’d have expected Peter to say that the Gentiles are saved in just the same way as we Jews are. That’s how it was expressed on previous occasions including Acts 10:45.

I think this might be the answer:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)

clinging_to_torahI believe Paul is saying a couple of things here. First, he is continuing with his central theme in this letter that no one is justified by obedience to Torah in and of itself. If anyone depends on their Torah obedience to justify them before God, then they will be judged by God based on their obedience alone. Since we have a long history of Israel disobeying Torah or not obeying it completely, any disobedience carries with it the curses God proscribed for disobedience, namely things like famine, exile, war, and death.

There is evidence that some first century Jewish people, including some Jewish believers, thought that they could only be justified before God by obedience to the mitzvot (Acts 15:1-2 for example). I think the “light bulb” went off over Peter’s head as he was speaking in front of the Council in Acts 15. I think he understood the Gentiles were saved by faith but it suddenly dawned on him that the same “mechanism” that saves Gentiles also saves Jews…faith, not observance of the mitzvot alone and not being ethnically Jewish.

So what did Jesus “nail to the cross?” Not the Torah. We have too much evidence that says the “curse of the Law” isn’t the Law itself. I believe what he “nailed to the cross” were the curses for Jewish disobedience of Torah. The “yoke” that Israel has never been able to bear. This is the freedom the Jewish people experience in Messiah. And through Messiah, the blessing of Abraham has come to the people of the nations so we too can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

I found a rather helpful individual comment on the blogosphere that I think helps illuminate this point:

I would like to add to this that Yeshua removed the curse of the Torah not by making this curse in itself invalid or inapplicable, but by introducing an atonement which exceeds the means of atonement provided by the legal system of the Torah. For in and through his sacrifice we can be justified from all things, from which we couldn’t be justified by the Torah of Moses (cf. Acts 13:39). In becoming a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, Messiah provided a means of atonement which results in eternal and definite forgiveness for those who truly repent, and in this manner he redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Gal. 3:13).

More: Derek Leman has recently written a blog post on a related topic called Physical and Spiritual Election.

A Quick View of the Coming of Messiah Through a Jewish Lens

cloaked-in-light-tallitBelief in the eventual coming of the mashiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. It is part of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief. In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the mashiach: ingathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service.

Modern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism, during the age of the prophets. They note that the messianic concept is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The mashiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to “the End of Days” (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times.

from “Mashiach: The Messiah”
Judaism 101

The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder. Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.

-from “Today’s Day”
Wednesday – Cheshvan 5 – 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Tales of the Messianic Era series

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post called A Quick View of Revelation Through a Christian Lens, which presented what I thought was a traditional fundamentalist Christian viewpoint of the Book of Revelation and the “end times.” It turned out to be one of my more popular blog posts and I hope laid the groundwork for further investigations into this area of study.

I want to be fair, and since I’m searching for a more Jewish understanding of this topic, I thought the next step should be for me to offer the opposite side of the coin: to show a portrait of a wholly and non-Messianic Jewish perspective on the coming of Moshiach. What would a distillation of the Jewish prophesies about Messiah taken just from the Tanakh (Old Testament) look like? Fortunately a few days ago, one fell quite conveniently in my lap.

The real Jewish messiah appears on the scene. He’s not Jesus, but a virtuous and devout Jewish man who is able to unite all Jews, a scholar and wise military leader. The nations of the world hate and oppose him and work against him, as they’ve done to every Jewish leader in Israel’s history. He’s nothing like what they expected to see – not the glorious all-powerful heavenly Jesus. He regathers the rest of the Jews from all around the world. Many wars against Israel break out, but the Messiah leads Israel in defeating their many enemies and in rebuilding the Third and final Temple.

True prophets once again appear in Israel and they are able to recognize the lineage of all Jews, including of priests, Levites and especially that of the Messiah himself, with many Jews recognizing their leader as the awaited Messiah. Christians, however, almost unanimously speak against him, brand him the “antichrist” of their bible, preaching fiery sermons in their churches against the “antichrist” and against the Jews who fell “under his spell just as Jesus, Paul and John predicted”. No Christian may believe in him, or they risk losing their salvation. Jews are ridiculed and the New Testament is held up as having predicted everything the Jews will do. Muslims, who along with Christians likewise believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that no one else fits the bill, also reject the kingship of the Jewish Messiah and join with the Western world in their opposition to him and the nation of Israel.

Finally, all nations gather against Israel for the ultimate conflagration, attacking Jerusalem and causing much damage. The war against Israel appears to be won and situation is hopeless. However, G-d himself intervenes, and sends his fire on earth and destroys the armies of “G-g and Magog and all the cohorts.” The weakest in Israel chases away thousands. The nations of the world are humbled, they are in awe of what G-d has done for Israel, of His salvation. The idols of the nations which do not save (including Jesus) are destroyed, are put away for good and are remembered no more. All false prophets and idol worshipers will be ashamed, they will realize that they inherited nothing but lies from their forefathers. The earth will be finally at peace. G-d raises all the righteous dead and all peoples of the earth are required to come to Jerusalem to worship Hashem in his Temple. The true Messiah of Israel (which could be the resurrected king David himself) will fear G-d, rule justly and will forever reign as prince/king over the Jewish people.

Jewish in Jerusalem(I just want to mention that although Islam considers Jesus a prophet, they do not see him as their “Messiah.” Rather, the Mahdi is the redeemer of Islam).

Just about all Christians and not a few Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish adherents are bound to find the above rendition of the coming of Messiah disturbing. The Jewish Messiah is treated by Christians as the “antichrist” because he’s “too Jewish” and fits the description of Moshiach in Jewish understanding too closely. The Church is waiting for someone who never comes, waiting for a rapture up to Heaven that never occurs. In the end, Christianity becomes just another enemy of Judaism and Israel that God defeats. Humiliated, Christians all over the world discover that they’ve been following a false god all along, and either they surrender their “faith” and pay homage the true King of Israel and worship Israel’s God, or they remain defiant, and continue to pray for a Jesus who never existed and who will never answer.

That’s a horrible thought. Here’s a worse one.

The above summary, at least on the surface, seems to fit quite well with what we understand of the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh. That is, if we don’t factor in the New Testament, this summary seems to connect almost seamlessly with the words of the ancient Jewish prophets about the coming Moshiach.

You don’t have to worry about the distinctions between the raptured Church and resurrected Israelites because no such dissonance exists. It’s all about Israel. Period.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t tremendously far from what I’ve been trying to find in Messianic Judaism, a completely Jewish Messiah King whose focus is first and foremost on national Israel and the Jewish people. From this focus, the people of the rest of the world receive blessings, but ultimately it’s all about Israel. Period.

If there isn’t a “happy meeting place” between the ancient portrait of the Jewish Messiah King who has yet to come and the promise of a resurrected Yeshua who will come again, then either New Testament Christians must be ready to admit that there is a very fuzzy connection between the Old Testament prophesies of Messiah and how the New Testament describes Jesus, or we have to take a whole new look at the Messianic prophesies in the Tanakh and see who we are really supposed to be waiting for.

This isn’t going to be easy, especially when I’m tossing aside the Church’s assumptions and traditions that make it possible to reconcile what doesn’t seem to fit very well, and re-examine the identity of Messiah and his redemptive mission at its core.

I know in my previous blog post, I received a large number of responses explaining the problems with some of the Christian assumptions about the return of Jesus. I’m hoping a similar reaction will be forthcoming, discussing the Jewish viewpoint of Moshiach and how (or if) a Jewish perspective can factor in and make it understandable that Jesus is the same Messiah we find in the Old and New Testaments.

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
never again will they learn war.

Isaiah 2:2-4 (NASB)

tallit-prayerWho is the Messiah who will redeem Israel, gather in her exiles, restore tranquility within her borders, vanquish her enemies, rebuild the Temple, and establish a rule of peace and justice over the entire world? Is it the man we see described by such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah? Or is it the Son of God who we encounter in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the one spoken of by the apostle Paul as he established the churches of the Gentiles, and the one who we find in all majesty and glory within the pages of Revelation?

Or somehow, is it both?

Trouble Breaking Into Church With Messianic Prophesy

daniel“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Daniel 9:24-27 (NASB)

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4-6 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

The previous entry is The Obscured Messiah in the Bible.

Last Wednesday night, my Pastor and I got through the majority of Chapter 8 (it’s not a long chapter and only covers Galatians 2:11-14) in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle of the Galatians. We disagreed so much about the content, that I apologized for seeming so oppositional. We continue to “butt heads” over the purpose and function of the Torah in the lives of the Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah in the Apostolic age and beyond.

But we got sidetracked again. Pastor asked me about the nature and function of “the Church,” the collection of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah. I knew Pastor saw the Church as separate from Judaism…well, sort of, but I had no idea how separate it was supposed to be.

From my point of view, “the Church,” the body of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah, is the logical extension of Biblical and historic Judaism that began with Abraham and was formalized in law at Sinai. Judaism has always looked forward to Messiah, so when Jesus was revealed as Moshiach, it wasn’t a departure from Jewish history but rather, the fulfillment of Jewish hopes and dreams. Of course, that fulfillment isn’t really filled full and it won’t be until his second advent when he will establish his reign of peace in Israel and across the entire world.

messiah-prayerSo if Jewish discipleship in Messiah is the natural and logical extension of Jewish history in the first century CE, then what was Gentile discipleship? I’ve said over and over that it was a major chore for Paul and the other Apostles to figure out a way to legally include Gentile disciples into the community of Jewish faith in Messiah without requiring that they convert to Judaism through the ritual of the proselyte and become obligated to the full yoke of Torah (and my Pastor and I also continue to debate what the Torah is and what purpose it has in Judaism) in the manner of the Jews.

It’s like Israel is the main event and enters through the front door of the mansion, while Gentiles get to come in but have to be admitted through the side entrance near the kitchen (but once we’re in, we’re in). I know that’s an unflattering image for most Christians, but that’s how the Bible reads. Going to the Old Testament (Tanakh), all of the prophesies about Messiah and what he will do emphasize blessings for Israel, not particularly for “the Church” (since “the Church” isn’t even a glimmer in any prophet’s eye in the Tanakh), but thanks to a single line in the Abrahamic covenant, the Gentiles in the world will receive blessings as well.

Did you get that? Israel is the main beneficiary of the blessings of the Messiah and the rest of the world benefits from the “spillover,” so to speak.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
“For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.
“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Isaiah 60:1-3 (NASB)

I’ve said before that only a single verse in Genesis 12 links the people of the nations to the Abrahamic covenant, and it is only that verse that allows us to have a connection with God at all, through our faith in Messiah. All of the conditions of all of the covenants God made with Israel continue forward in time and, although major sections of the Torah are held in abeyance until such time as the Messiah comes, rebuilds the Temple, re-establishes the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, and ascends the Throne of David, everything else that God “covenanted” with the Jewish people remains in effect.

So how did the tail end up being the head? How did the Church get to think of itself as first and the Jewish people second.

Here, I’ll give you an example. Let’s go back to my conversation with Pastor about the Church and all that must occur when Messiah returns.

rapturePastor, like most Christians, believes that when Messiah comes, all members of the Church, Jews and Gentiles alike, will be taken up into the air with him and be raptured to Heaven. And there we’ll stay. Meanwhile, a lot of bad, ugly things will be happening on the earth. Lots of people will be “left behind” and many will come to faith at that time. But they won’t be “the Church”. According to Pastor, they’ll be believers, but they’ll form a distinct group outside of the Church. The Church at that time will be in Heaven with Christ. Only believers and non-believers will be on earth enduring the tribulation.

Pastor said he wasn’t sure of the timing, but that all of the Israelites, the ancient Jewish people who lived and died before the first advent of Christ, will be resurrected and they will stay on earth. They are “believers” but not the Church. They will have a special and unique role as the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8), but the Church disappears from the face of the planet with Jesus and they (we?) don’t return until Jesus returns, all the way down into Revelation 20. But how can Israel, the Jewish people, be fractured into two groups: those who are in the Church in Heaven, and those who are “mere” believers on earth? Abraham saw Messiah’s day (John 8:56) but he lived before the first advent. Does that mean Abraham is in Heaven as part of the Church or on earth as a “believer?” It all doesn’t make sense.

No wonder my Sunday school teacher balked when I said his calling the people of the nations in Zechariah 14:16 “unsaved Gentiles” was anachronistically projecting a “Christianism” into the Jewish text. But then again, I still think my teacher was wrong, because according to both him and Pastor, it is possible for people to come to faith during the Messianic reign, although they won’t be part of “the Church,” they will still be “saved.”

But I’ve got a problem. Whenever I read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets who speak of Messiah, I get one picture. But when I read Revelation and the sections of the Gospels and Epistles that mention the second coming of Jesus, I get a faintly related but mainly different picture.

I’ve avoided the whole issue of the second coming and the “end times” for most of my “career” as a believer because, frankly, I’ve met so many “nuts” in the Hebrew Roots movement who were incredibly obsessed about “the end times” and who weaved all kinds of bizarre scenarios around it. However, if I ever hope to understand the past, present, and future of the Jewish Messiah King, I’m going to have to take all this head on.

My Sunday school class just finished a multi-week inventory of the end times, the Messianic age, and the final events leading into eternity, but I prefer a fresh look at the material. I’m probably not going to throw myself headlong into the subject if, for no other reason, than the only information sources I have immediately handy are Christian sources (I know that sounds strange, but how does Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular treat this topic?).

walking-into-churchAfter nearly a year of going back to church (although I guess I’ve been a part of “the Church” all along), I still find it hard to break into the church. Break into the church? I mean I still lack the ability to take on traditionally Christian concepts and doctrines with any amount of ease. I question everything. Everything seems strange or at least unanticipated. Is it just my ignorance of the Bible and how to interpret it, or has the Church become so comfortable with its historic perspectives that it has lost the ability (or the will) to ask itself if it could possibly be wrong?

I’m going to have to “cut and paste” everything the Bible says about the future Messianic age together on one page to even begin to make sense of it. Is there any hope of reconciling the prophesies of the Jewish Messiah in the Tanakh with the prophesies about the risen Christ in the New Testament?

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”

Lenny Bruce

FFOZ TV Review: None Greater Than John

ffoz_tv11_1Episode 11: Jesus tells his disciples that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Immerser. Does that mean that the worst Christian is better than John? Episode eleven will clear up the confusion over this passage by putting terms back into their proper Hebraic context. It will be shown that Jesus meant that the most insignificant prophets of the Messianic Era will be superior to the greatest prophets of our era. One day soon we will all be like prophets, all mankind will have revelation, and through the gospel we can take ahold of this now.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 11: None Greater Than John

The Lesson: The Mystery of Least in the Kingdom

This episode departs from the discussion of atonement and restoration of national Israel and the world, which we viewed in the previous series of five or six episodes including repentance and the Messianic Kingdom is now, and explores something very specific about John the Baptist.

Amen, I say to you, none among those born of a woman has arisen greater than Yochanan the Immerser; yet the smallest in the kingdom of Heaven will be greater than he.

Matthew 11:11 (DHE Gospels)

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki tells the audience that traditionally in Christianity, this verse has been used to say that even the worst New Testament Christian is better than the best Old Testament Jew. He also describes a form of dispensationalism, the Old Testament dispensation of the Law, in which John was the greatest prophet of his time, and the New Testament dispensation of grace, where believers in Jesus are even greater than John.

This belief has fueled a long history of replacement theology in the church as well as a great deal of blatant anti-Semitism. Strangely enough, some Christians have even interpreted this verse to mean that John the Baptist will not be in the Messianic Kingdom, even though Jesus already said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in the Kingdom (Matthew 8:11). How can this be? Well, it can’t be. There’s no logic in excluding John from the Kingdom, particularly if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be there, and here we see the danger in taking a single verse from the Bible and developing an entire theological position on it. As this television program has repeatedly stated, you must engage the original Jewish context of scripture and try to comprehend how the audience of Matthew’s gospel would have understood his words.

You also have to link the various relevant portions of the Bible together to add context and meaning to what you are studying, such as the following:

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!

Matthew 11:11 (NASB)

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 (NASB)

ffoz_tv11_tobyEven among modern observant Jews, Moses is revered as the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was greater than any prophet who came before or since and certainly, he could be considered the greatest prophet of his generation. But in comparing the passages we read in Deuteronomy to Matthew, Toby tells us that what Jesus was actually saying is that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet of his generation.

Compare: “no prophet has arisen” to “there has not arisen anyone,” and you’ll see the linkage Jesus was using to paint a picture to his listeners of who John was in their day.

How was John great? He was the greatest prophet in his generation. Here we arrive at Toby’s first clue in our attempt to solve the Mystery of the Least in the Kingdom:

Clue 1: John was the greatest prophet alive in his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet alive in his generation.

But we won’t get very far if we don’t understand the Hebrew words and meanings behind the words “least” and “greatest” in our English Bibles. To take the next step, we visit FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.

Aaron tells us that in Hebrew, the words Great and Least or Big and Little are “Gadol” and “Katan” or to say “little one,” “Katone.” Gadol isn’t just “big,” it can mean “great,” “older,” “more significant,” “mighty,” worthy,” and so forth. Katan can mean “little,” “younger,” “less significant,” “weak,” “unworthy,” and so forth. For instance, in Jeremiah 10:6, God is referred to as “great” (gadol) and His Name is “great” (gadol).

To describe katan or katone, Aaron cites the following scripture:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:1-6 (ESV)

ffoz_tv11_aaronHere, Jesus is using children as an example of significance or worthiness of people in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Messianic Era. He’s also, according to Aaron, talking about how disciples of ancient Jewish Rabbis were considered. An experienced and learned disciple was called “great” or “gadol,” but an inexperienced and unlearned disciple was called “least” or “little one,” which in Hebrew are katan and katone. So the “little ones” being referred to in the above verse aren’t literally children, but disciples of Jesus who were inexperienced, vulnerable, and uneducated. If you caused one of these inexperienced disciples, these “little ones,” to sin, it would be very, very bad for you.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls together Aaron’s language lesson to give us our second clue:

Clue 2: Great meant high-ranking, experienced, prestigious, while Least meant low-ranking, inexperienced, insignificant.

But we still don’t understand how Jesus could say that even the least or most inexperienced believer (who could be Jewish or Gentile) in the Messianic Age could be greater than the prophet John the Baptist. One more clue is needed to unravel the rest of the mystery.

To do that, Toby takes us back to the prophets in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Joel 2:28-29 (NASB)

Both prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, and Toby interprets their words to mean that everyone in the Kingdom, from the least to the greatest, will receive an overwhelming outpouring of prophesy, so much so, that by comparison, they all will have greater command of prophesy in that age than the degree of prophesy John possessed nearly two-thousand years ago at the close of the Second Temple period. This is the third and final clue.

Clue 3: In the Messianic Era, everyone will be a prophet.

The idea is that from the least of the prophets in the Kingdom to the greatest, the level of prophesy and apprehension of God they experience will still be greater than what John the Baptist experienced in his generation. This isn’t excluding John from the Kingdom and it isn’t saying that New Testament Christians are better than Old Testament Jews (or any Jewish person today), it’s saying that in the Messianic Era, God’s Spirit will be poured out to such a degree that an unprecedented surge of prophetic power will be possessed by literally everyone in the Kingdom.

What Did I Learn?

ffoz_tv11_childrenA lot. First of all, I didn’t even consider how Matthew 11:11 could be interpreted in isolation to support anti-Semitic thought and replacement theology in Christian history (and probably in some churches even today). I also didn’t fully capture the picture of the Messianic Era as being full of prophets, nor did I see the linkage between the different passages in the Bible that both Toby and Aaron referenced. I also had no idea that Matthew 18:1-6 referred not specifically to children but to the status of inexperienced and experienced disciples of a Rabbi, and specifically disciples of Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus).

When Toby mentioned Joel 2:28-29, I remembered a teaching he presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin last spring. He gave me my final “clue” to solve my own mystery of how Gentiles are connected to God in a covenant relationship while retaining our status as people from the nations who are called by His Name. I wrote about that experience nearly four months ago, and I invite you to read it as an extension of the material I’m presenting here today, as well as providing additional details to the television teaching of Toby’s and Aaron’s.

For me, this was a fascinating and eye-opening episode. I tend to think of myself as experienced enough in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish realms to be beyond the “Messianic Judaism 101” stage, but I guess I’m not, at least in this area. I do wonder about Toby’s source material though, especially in connecting Matthew 11:11 back to Deuteronomy 34:10-12. I don’t doubt Toby’s word and I have no reason not to believe he isn’t correct, but information doesn’t come out of thin air. One of the things I wish for this television series is a set of “digging deeper” links or even just a Bibliography of the sources used to construct the lessons provided in each episode.

I’ll review another episode next week.

Prophesies of the Master

jewish-revolt-against-romeDo the prophesies of Jesus Christ about the final tribulation really mean what we think they mean?

By the time the Jewish revolt against Rome began, only a few of the Master’s original twelve disciples remained alive. Most had already fallen asleep in various places throughout the world. Thomas continued his work in India; tradition says he died in 70 CE. Simon the Zealot followed up on the work of Thaddeus in Armenia and Parthia, but according to “The Golden Legend,” he did not escape martyrdom, and he may have already been dead by the outbreak of the war with Rome. John continued his labors in Asia Minor where he kept a low profile through the years of the Jewish revolt. James the Less appears to have been still alive in Galilee near the end of the Jewish revolt.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“War in Perea and Judea,” pg 1037
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This is how Lancaster begins the study of the “Acts of the Apostles” for the week of Torah Portion Balak. This part of Volume 6 of the Torah Club covers the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome, which leads up to the siege of Jerusalem and culminates in the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of most of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel into the diaspora.

I thought it was appropriate, since we are currently in the three weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and Tish’a B’Av, that I cover a little bit of that “territory” in the history of the Jewish people.

Actually, what captured my interest in the Torah Club study, were the prophesies of the Master regarding this period in Israel’s history. Within this particular lesson, Lancaster recounts several prophesies of the Messiah that not only provide a direct revelation regarding this tragic time for the Jewish people, but which, in my opinion, tells us something new about the words of Christ. For the sake of length, I’m only going to comment on three of the prophesies.

“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Matthew 23:35-36 (NASB)

The Zealous implemented a state of martial law in the city. They positioned guards at all the exits and allowed no one to leave as they rounded up men culpable in the uprising against them.

-Lancaster, pg 1041

Lancaster recounts the general circumstances in Jerusalem during the Shevet-Tevet, 68 CE time period as recorded by Josephus in Jewish War. In describing the events associated with the above-quoted prophesy of the Master, he relates how the original Sanhedrin was executed by the Zealots and an illegal court was created in its place. But at the “trial” of Zecharyah ben Baruch, a wealthy citizen in Jerusalem who was thought to be a Roman collaborator, Zecharyah’s defense was so convincing, that the Zealot’s puppet court found him innocent of the charges.

But the Zealots were not out for justice and their response fulfilled the Master’s prophetic words:

The Zealous rose up in fury. Two of the Zealot leaders unsheathed their swords and ran the plaintiff through. They said, “You also have our verdict. We acquit you too.” Then they dragged his body into Solomon’s Colonnade and threw it from that height into the valley below. The other Zealots struck the seventy legislators with the flats of their swords and drove them from the Temple. That was the last trial a Sanhedrin conducted in the city of Jerusalem.

The incident fulfills a word spoken by Yeshua in reference to the murder of Zecharhiah the son of Jehoiada in the Temple.

-ibid, pg 1042

The second of the prophesies of Jesus I’m citing here is even more illuminating and perhaps controversial.

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Luke 34-37 (NASB)

nyc-sandy-aftermathMost Christians believe they have a complete understanding of the meaning of these verses, and it provides a great deal of theological comfort to them. But notice that the section in brackets is not contained in the oldest manuscripts, which may hint at something about the meaning of what Luke is trying to communicate.

The Zealots kept the city under their martial law. They punished all crimes with death, regardless of how serious the offense. They refused to allow anyone to leave lest he defect to the Romans. They struck down those they discovered escaping and left them unburied. Corpses lay along the roadways into the city. They refused to allow burial for any man they put to death.

To the people of Jerusalem, it seemed as if the Zealots had declared war against Rome and God both. They left the dead bodies to putrefy in the sun. They put to death anyone who dared to bury one of their victims. Josephus says, “He that granted the favor of the grave to another soon stood in need of a grave himself.” In those days, the words of the Master were fulfilled.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

This is a very different interpretation of the Master’s prophesy I quoted above than what we are used to hearing. There is no relation to “the rapture” at all (and I know I’ll probably “get in trouble” for even quoting Lancaster’s interpretation). One is taken by the Zealots for various crimes, real or imagined, and the other, who is not a suspect, is left behind. And where the dead bodies are left in the street, there the vultures gather.

You may have heard stories of Hitler’s Gestapo kidnapping political enemies in the middle of the night from their homes and from their beds. Similar stories have been told of the KGB in the Soviet Union. Under any despotic rule, citizens can be taken away without due process, imprisoned, or killed. There is no justice and no mercy. Why then could this not be the fate of many in Jerusalem during the Roman siege against the city as the Zealots ruled inside the city’s walls with brutality and force?

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Matthew 24:21-22 (NASB)

This is another prophesy that is attributed, in Christian tradition, to “the rapture,” stating that “the elect” will be whisked into Heaven before things get too bad on earth in the last days before the Messiah’s return.

However, according to Lancaster’s commentary, this prophesy may well have been fulfilled during the Fall of Perea in the month of Adar, 68 CE. Again, Lancaster’s source is Josephus’ Jewish War.

As the springtime drew near, Vespasian commenced his campaign. The rebels in Perea held the city of Gadara (or Gedora), which Josephus called “the capital of Perea and a city of some strength.” The leading men of Gadara had sent ambassadors to Vespasian urging him to come and liberate their city from the rebels. Vespasian took the tenth legion from Scythopolis (Beth-shan) and marched them to Gadara. On the fourth day of Adar, the legion came within sight of the city. At the sight of the approaching legion, the rebels abandoned the city and fled. Gadara surrendered immediately.

Vespasian left his tribute Placidus and five hundred cavalry and three thousand footmen to pursue the fleeing rebels. He returned to Caesarea.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

Placidus pursued and harassed the rebels, killing them as they ran and eliminating the populations of any hapless villages the rebels happened to take refuge in. Finally the rebel forces were trapped, hemmed in between the rain-swollen Jordan river and Placidus and his men.

By the time it was all over, more than fifteen thousand corpses floated down the Jordan and washed into the Dead Sea. Placidus continued his assault all the way to the Dead Sea, taking all the villages and towns of Perea except the fortress Macherus.

This slaughter happened just south of Pella where the Jewish believers had taken refuge inside the walls of that city. From their perspective in the city, it seemed as if the Master’s words had come to pass.

They prayed ardently for the coming of the Son of Man to cut the days of tribulation short. They looked for a sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and they listened for the sound of His shofar, but He did not come.

-ibid, pp 1043-44

Broken FaithLancaster presents more prophesies of Jesus as applied to the says that preceded the fall of Jerusalem, verses that most Protestant churches attribute to a final tribulation in which the faithful will be taken up and those who are not chosen are “left behind.”

Can I say what these prophesies mean? No, of course not. I present this interpretation from the Torah Club for two reasons. The first I’ve already mentioned, to recount and commemorate these three weeks of mourning in solidarity with the Jewish people. The second is to illustrate that prophesy is one thing and theology and doctrine based on long-held Christian tradition is something else entirely.

I’ve often wondered what would happen in the final days of tribulation, before the return of Christ, if we all finally realized that there is no rapture…what would happen to us…what would happen to the faithful?

However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Matthew 24:8 (NASB)

If there is no rapture, if terrible times arrive and we are not rescued, if like the believing Jews who sought refuge in Pella, we look to the sky and pray, if like those devout ones, we gaze up to in the air and the Master does not come in the clouds when we expect him to, what happens to us? What will become of our faith if we fail to hear the sound of his shofar? Then, when Messiah does come at the time appointed by the Father, will he find that we still have faith…or will it have fled along with our courage as our theological expectations and the traditions of the church turn to dust?